Editor’s Note: Two interviews were conducted with Chieanne Ainslie. The first interview took place on July 25th, 2016 three days before her brother’s sentencing for his part in the disturbing death and dismemberment of Wesley Hallam. In the interests of justice, the Northern Hoot decided to reserve this article until it was clear how the judge would rule on a controversial plea bargain that was before the courts. A second interview was conducted with Chieanne Ainslie on July 29th, 2016 –one day after Justice I.S. McMillan sentenced Chieanne’s brother, Eric Mearow, and two of his friends, to 7 years jail-time, time served on a lesser charge of 1st degree murder to manslaughter and offering an indignity to a body. All three men could be eligible for parole in March 2017.
The horrifying killing and dismemberment of Wesley Hallam in January 2011 terrified the community of Sault Ste. Marie. For Wesley’s family, the tragedy was life shattering. For 27 year old Chieanne Ainslie, younger sister of one of the three accused -Eric Mearow, and her parents, the incident presumptively branded the family as dangerous goods. After five and a half years of silence and with a sentencing for her brother on the horizon, Chieanne was compelled to go on the record about growing up with Eric, the burden of being his sister and what she believes would be the best outcome for Eric.
“My parents and I feel sympathy for the Hallams. This is tragic. We are deeply shocked and I think we’re more scared of Eric than the rest of society. We share the same feeling that everyone else does- he shouldn’t get out,” admitted Chieanne.
Eric’s mother was just 16 years old when he was born. As a young mother, and one that was loving, she recognized that a better life might be provided for her son through the support of a close family member that was gainfully employed and more established. For the first two years of Eric’s life he was raised by this family member and his mother remained involved in his life.
However, as Chieanne shared through her mother’s recollection, the spouse of that family member caring for Eric was unkind, demonstrating cruel behaviour towards Eric. Eric’s mother would recover her custody of him when he was two years old. He presented a delay in those early years, not meeting milestones targets in speech and dexterity.
“He couldn’t speak, he would walk into the walls. He was troubled then- there were a lot of medical issues,” shared Chieanne. “My mother tried very hard to find out what happened. So my mom thinks that was a big part of it- she doesn’t really know what happened while Eric was in her [family member’s]care. She thinks that’s a huge factor in how Eric’s life turned out.”
Her mother, who observed alarming behaviour in her son when he was a child, sought professional support in the hopes of obtaining a diagnosis that might explain his anti-social behaviour. There were no resources for the young mother in Sault Ste. Marie, and the family, though often struggling to make ends meet, travelled to the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto to seek answers. As an adolescent Eric was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder and demonstrated characteristics for schizophrenia. The latter mental health concern would require further testing for accurate diagnosis when Eric reached young adulthood however, Chieanne believes follow-up testing has never been conducted.
By the time Chieanne was 14 years old, 18 year old Eric had been in and out of trouble with the law for most of his youth. He began developing his criminal record with misdemeanor offences like mischief, petty theft and possession eventually working his way up to acquire felony charges like arson, assault, armed robbery and most recently- murder.
“For Eric he’s at the age where I think he’s too far gone for help. He’s been institutionalized,” pronounced Chieanne.
In 2003, Eric was being held in a Thunder Bay jail when he received a temporary pass to attend Chieanne’s grade 8 graduation in Sault Ste. Marie. The day after her convocation ceremony the family was enjoying a peaceful day at home when the Sault Ste. Marie Police surrounded the house demanding that Eric surrender himself. Earlier that day, Eric and a buddy had committed an armed robbery at a convenience store. Eric presented himself peacefully but the family was caught up in the arrest –including 14 year old Chieanne.
Though the family would be released and eventually relieved of any charges the police might have brought against them, the event shook the family to the core. Chieanne says that her mother was never the same after that, falling into a depression, isolating herself in her bedroom, extreme loss of weight and unable to go to work. And for young Chieanne the experience of being humiliated in front of her neighbours and young people walking home from school, being held in a holding cell for 14 hours and the courtroom process to expunge her of all charges, undid her. Added to that were years of terror and abuse that Chieanne claims were inflicted upon her by Eric.
Chieanne disclosed that she has experienced “extreme brutal nightmares” her entire life, requiring sleeping pills until two years ago. Now, she says, she doesn’t sleep preferring insomnia to night terrors. Her physical health is poor and at just 27 years old experiences high blood pressure and female complications. She has been diagnosed with PTSD, depression and severe anxiety, conditions that she attributes to her experiences with Eric and the social stigma she suffered as a young person for her familial association with Eric.
Weeping quietly Chieanne recalled her years following the ‘family arrest’ in 2003. “When I started high school it was kind of hard to make friends when everybody was whispering about me. They knew everything. So I’ve made five friends- five girlfriends. I exposed myself to them. I told them about my life and they’ve stuck by me ever since.”
Chieanne added that many people have expressed that they are afraid of her, drawing the assumption that she may also pose a ‘threat’ to their own wellbeing and broad public safety. But Chieanne, having intimate exposure to Eric’s lifestyle and the havoc wreaked by it, chose something different for herself.
“I took a lot of hardship but have done the opposite of what a lot of people would do in the Sault- fall into a life of crime. I didn’t want that. I wanted a life for myself. I went down another path. I might have had more friends if I had partied and did drugs. But I didn’t do that. I got myself to counselling, I’ve worked all my life and I’m trying to get my high school diploma.”
Attempts to complete her education have been derailed by one incident after another with Eric. In the fall of 2010, Eric was released from a 6-year jail term for the 2003 armed robbery -just a few months prior to the night Wesley was killed. In 2011, Chieanne was close to obtaining her high school diploma but Eric’s involvement in Wesley’s death put an end to that effort.
“When all that happened I really did lose my mind. I was going crazy. I secluded myself in the house. I became really sick and depressed.”
Eric appeared before the court in 2009 to negotiate the terms of his probation for the armed robbery. A Sault Star article lists Eric’s lengthy criminal history and notes the concern of prison officials who indicated that Eric refused to seek support for his behaviour, thereby increasing the likelihood that he would re-offend. In the same article it is written that the presiding judge declared that Eric was a danger to the public and that the Sault Ste. Marie police feared that Eric would commit a serious personal injury offence in the future.
Chieanne, who has taken to self-educating herself about the law and pre-determinants of crime remarked, “There just doesn’t seem to be any rehabilitation in our judicial system. Criminals go to jail and become better criminals. Our family found that once Eric became institutionalized he became the system’s problem. He never really got the help. Even if the help was there.”
During his few months of freedom in late 2010, Chieanne and her parents attempted to ‘normalize’ their relationship with Eric. While Eric was doing his stint for the armed robbery Chieanne had disassociated herself from him. Encouraged by her mother to stomach the occasional visit from Eric, Chieanne put forward a weak effort, making a few allowances here and there.
“For those few months before Christmas things were all right. Things weren’t the greatest but they were all right. He never got in trouble at my home. He didn’t bring his friends around which was what I wanted. So he did respect some of my wishes.”
On New Year ’s Day 2011, Chieanne and her parents went to Eric’s for a family picture –the first in years and an image that Chieanne has deleted from her files. The family would next hear from Eric when he announced that he was leaving for a job out west. He left town January 10th, 2011- two days after Wesley’s death. On January 11th Wesley’s decapitated and dismembered body was discovered in Coldwater Creek parallel to Landslide Rd. in Sault Ste. Marie. On January 14th Eric was apprehended in Thunder Bay when he was stopped by police for speeding. Eric was returned to Sault Ste. Marie and placed in custody for outstanding warrants. On May 2nd Eric was charged with 1st degree murder and offering an indignity to a body.
In January 2011, Chieanne was a new mother. Her parents spent a great amount of time with her during the early months of her parenthood and she had the support of her daughter’s father. Rumors about the details of Wesley’s death had begun circulating almost immediately. One evening, after her parents returned to their home and her partner had gone in to work for a night shift, Chieanne was visited by the police. Upon opening the door and seeing them on her doorstep she burst into tears. Unable to bring herself to say it, when Chieanne speaks about the night Wesley was killed and dismembered by her brother and two of his friends, she refers to it as “the incident”.
“I was alone, I had my newborn daughter and this was a big incident to hear that my brother was involved with,” said Chieanne. “Eric tried to contact me off and on but I disassociated myself from him. I took one or two calls in the beginning. The first time I spoke to him all I could say was ‘you fucked up, you really fucked up this time’.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Chieanne felt the need to flee from Eric’s reaches. Fearful that Eric might send somebody to her home and she packed up and moved to a new residence in town. Chieanne was questioned by the police for about 6 months, attempting to discern if Eric had disclosed to her any information about the details of Wesley’s death. They let up on her when she put it bluntly to them what she thought would be the best outcome for Eric –keep him in jail.
“After this incident we thought maybe he would go away for life. Or at least a long stretch. That’s all Eric knows. It’s sad to say that we hoped that Eric would have stayed in jail because it would have been better for him. Eric doesn’t know how to function as a normal person in society. He doesn’t know how to pay bills, he’s never had to. We think he doesn’t even have a social insurance number. A lot of it comes down to the system. Eric gets out of jail and that’s it. There’s no community help for people like that. I feel that instead of being institutionalized into a jail he should have been placed into a mental institution where he would have probably gotten proper help and maybe have gone down a different path.”
Over the past five and half years the negative public perception of Chieanne and her family escalated. The opinion of society at large about herself and her family is a compelling factor driving Chieanne to share her story. “I would like some truth to be shed. It killed me when people thought my family must be a bunch of fall-downs or that I’m a loser.”
Chieanne’s mother met her Dad and when Eric was almost 4 years old and have been together since. “My parents are not drinkers, they are not drug addicts and they are not partiers. They never have been. We didn’t always have a lot of money. My Dad was in a motorcycle accident shortly after I was born and lost his leg. So my mom had to not only take care of my brother and a newborn baby but she also had to take care of my Dad. She has had to overcome a lot of things in her life. My mother is a very strong woman and had the same expectations and hopes for her children that any mother would have.”
Mortified by what Eric had been accused of, his mother and stepfather remained absent from the courtroom during the 4 years of preliminary hearing. Chieanne attended the hearing from time to time but stresses that she was not there in support of her brother.
“I went to court not to support him. I sat on his side of the courtroom because that’s where I felt comfortable. I went for my own personal information. People that weren’t involved in the incident and never went to court were trying to tell me what happened and they were very ignorant about the information and so were their opinions. I wanted to get the information for myself so that I might know what happened.
Chieanne’s parents received counselling after learning that Eric had been charged with 1st degree murder and an indignity to a human body but soon ended their sessions. “When they started talking about it, it became harder for them,” remarked Chieanne.
Prior to Eric’s 2011 arrest, Chieanne had sought out counselling on her own to manage and heal mental health injuries triggered by a childhood traumatized by her brother. She confesses that she consciously works at staying mentally healthy every day- especially for her six year old daughter. Two years ago Chieanne made the decision to leave Sault Ste. Marie seeking the protection that distance may provide from possible harm, judgement and a gruesome family legacy.
“The Sault is too small. I would hear the comments and see people associated with the incident and I would see the Hallam family around town. I don’t want my daughter raised in that environment. And I want to be the person that tells my daughter what happened. I’m afraid someone in the Sault, maybe another kid, might tell her what her uncle did. That’s my greatest concern at this point. How is this going to affect her? Or could somebody mistreat her for what Eric had done when she had nothing to do with it? I’ve received a lot of grief for what he has done too,” Chieanne recalls, elaborating about being confronted by a myriad of Eric’s victims.
Her fear of Eric also motivated Chieanne to leave the Sault. “I’ve always been scared of my brother. We associated with him because it was better to keep him as a friend than an enemy.”
Chieanne is attempting to overcome dreadful events that she claims were perpetrated by Eric from the time that she was 8 yrs. old until 14 years old –until Eric went to jail. She has spoken with the police about the statute of limitations associated with specific offences and has learned that regarding her situation none exist. However, Chieanne is frightened to pursue charges against Eric.
“This is about me being victimized by my brother. He’s an evil person. I’m still trying to build up the courage to charging him but there is a big fear – a fear of retaliation from him or by people that are influenced by him. I’m afraid of him. I’m afraid of all of it.”
Chieanne will be pursuing a restraining order against Eric closer to his release date. It has been recently learned that Eric, along with the other two men involved in Wesley’s killing and dismemberment, may be released as soon as March 2017. A controversial plea deal was struck in April 2016 reducing Eric’s charges, as well as the other two men involved in Wesley’s death, all the way down from 1st degree murder to manslaughter. On July 28th the judge sentenced on the charge –all men will serve about 7 years, including time served making, them eligible for parole in a few months. Sault Ste. Marie Police are seeking a third party review of all the events leading to the ruling last month and will be meeting with the Attorney General of Ontario on the matter.
Chieanne acknowledges that it has been more challenging for her mother to detach from Eric. “He’s her son,” remarked Chieanne. “This has affected my mom the most as a result.”
But Chieanne, despite her fear of her brother, is hardened about her feelings towards him. “I don’t identify as having a brother. We were never close. I’ve tolerated and put up with him but I don’t love my brother. I’ve never had any feeling for Eric but dislike.”
In an email message from Chieanne today she requested that readers please do not contact or message her regarding the above article. I’m not looking for sympathy or to be threatened or even society’s opinion, she writes. I’ve seen enough and voiced my own. This was something I felt I had to do. My whole life I’ve felt I’ve been punished for someone else’s wrongs.